A Wheaton picnic that gathered more than 200 people Saturday counted among its crowd factory workers, bus drivers and a man who spent 20 years translating the Bible into his native Liberian dialect.
The uniting forces behind the diverse event were World Relief DuPage/Aurora and Exodus World Service, which planned the picnic to mark World Refugee Day, a United Nations-recognized June 20 observance of the plight of displaced people worldwide.
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"We throw our doors open to anyone in the community who would like to come and meet new neighbors," World Relief Executive Director Emily Gray said before the picnic. "Today we celebrate everything that is good about refugees and immigrants."
According to the U.N., eight people become refugees every minute. Gray said the ones who end up in the Wheaton area usually are from Burma, Bhutan, Iran, Iraq and Eritrea, an East African nation that borders Ethiopia.
"Refugees don't have a lot of choice in where they go," Gray said. "They can't go home or stay in the country they're in."
A need to seek political asylum from rebels in his home country of Liberia brought 74-year-old Robert Glaybo to DuPage County in 2001.
"I never dreamed in my life that I would be living here," said the former teacher, whose accomplishments include the Bible translation into his native tongue, Bassa.
Glaybo's first job in the area was at the Holiday Inn in Naperville, but he later gave back to the organization that helped him get settled by driving a bus to take refugees to English classes offered by World Relief.
"It's something that I felt is fitting because that's the type of work I used to do back home," Glaybo said.
World Relief's work also includes providing a furnished apartment for refugees and connecting them with American volunteers who help them adjust to everyday tasks such as grocery shopping and using public transportation.
"One of the adjustments for refugees is the American obsession with this time clock thing," Gray said.
The picnic, however, held at Northside Park, ran on what organizers called a relaxed schedule and also offered volleyball, soccer, face painting for kids and ethnic music performed by refugee community groups.